Avenue Q. Music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Book by Jeff Whitty. Directed by Jarrad West. Musical director Elizabeth Alford. Choreographer Pierce Jackson. Supa Productions. Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. Recommended for mature audiences. April 28-May 13. theq.net.au.
One of the things director Jarrad West loves about Avenue Q is that it pricks anyone's "I'm offended" bubble. In the guise of an parody of the children's show Sesame Street, it tackles such subjects as racism, homosexuality, pornography and relationships with a decidedly adult sensibility when it comes to language and behaviour. With songs such as Everyone's A Little Bit Racist, It Sucks to Be Me, and You Can Be as Loud the Hell You Want When You're Makin' Love, this show is some distance from the C is for Cookie innocence of its inspiration and unafraid to be a little politically incorrect.
"That's wonderful!" West says.
West is directing the Tony Award-winning musical for Supa Productions. He says that like all people about his age - "Generation X, I was born in 1981 so i think I'm Y, I'm not a millennial, thank God - we all grew up on Sesame Street and Play School and the Jim Henson Creature Workshop".
Avenue Q is specifically an affectionate adult-oriented parody of the longrunning Children's Television Workshop educational program with its mix of puppets and human characters, its songs and its characters' goals of self-realisation.
Princeton (played by Nick Valois), the main character, is in his early 20s, just graduated from college and wondering what to do with his life. He comes to live in the far-out street of Avenue Q - the first one he can afford, having worked his way down from Avenue A - to try to sort things out. There, he meets an assortment of monsters and humans who are his his neighbours. They include former child star Gary Coleman (Joanna Licuanan Francis), the building superintendent; aspiring, unemployed stand-up comic Brian (Riley Bell) and his fiancee Christmas Eve (Nina Wood), a therapist with no clients; reclusive nternet porn addict Trekkie Monster (Robert Stankov); and flatmates Nicky (Dave Smith),a goodhearted slacker, and Rod (Joel Hutchings), an investment banker with a secret.
Most importantly, perhaps, there's also Kate Monster ( Emma McCormack), a kindergarten assistant who dreams of opening a "Monstersori" school. She and Princeton soon develop feelings for each other, but as it says in another show, the course of true love did never did run smooth...`
The script has been slightly updated, West says, in part to change some lines that seemed a little too tasteless in light of Coleman's death, but the core of it remains the same: a fun, satirical, romantic, show with some confronting scenes including torrid puppet sex.
"I wouldn't bring the kids," West says.
"It's definitely 18+ - it's too disturbing."
But he says it also has humour and warmth along with the more extreme moments.
Valois, unlike his character Princeton, had a goal in mind early in life.
"From when I was 16 I wanted to be a builder,' he says.
"I wanted to be able to build houses, go to work and see what I'd built."
And that's exactly what he's done. along with studying a law degree part time and in his spare time, acting in musicals such as Rent, Titanic and Jesus Christ Superstar.
McCormack wasn't quite as certain about her path, studying musical theatre and working in children's entertainment and finance before doing a master's degree and working as a research officer. Her previous shows include Anything Goes and Rock of Ages.
Avenue Q presented both of them with a new performing challenge: puppetry. Valois says it's a lot more difficult than it looks and McCormack adds the actors must constantly remember to keep their puppets' mouth and body movements in sync with their own and also to keep the puppets' eyelines aligned with each other when they are conversing. It the puppets, not the actors, on whom the audience should be focusing. There's also the necessity of learning and carrying out choreography when wearing and operating a puppet.
Stankov, who plays the porn-obsessed Trekkie Monster, is not just new to puppets, but to theatre: this is the 21-year-old's first show. He says after seeing a couple of musicals he decided to audition for the role believing he could do a suitably Cookie Monsterish voice (the inspiration for the character albeit with a different obsession). And he's enjoying the experience and the double novelty of puppeteering (he operates the large Trekkie's mouth and one arm while another performer manipulates the other arm.
The worst part, he says, is that it can get warm, especially when he's crouched away unseen behind the set when Trekkie is at home.
"It's very hot and I can't wipe my mouth because I've got is fur."